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Handyman Letter
March 1, 2001


1) Keep yourself well-lubricated... a message from the Natural Handyman

2) Hello and thank you to Websites and publications that have recently
linked with or featured The Natural Handyman

3) What's new at

4) Q&A with our readers


6) "Pass the hammer, would ya?"... NH's readers speak out!

7) Featured in the Natural Handyman Bookshop...



I have half-jokingly written that a little lubrication makes everything better, but I humbly confess that this is only half true. Lubrication may be a fair weather friend or an unexpected adversary. Oil on the threads of a nut make the nut easier to put on and easier to take off. This is fabulous for a nut you want to be able to remove... NOT so great on a nut that should stay put, such as one holding a tire onto your automobile! Ice is nice when cooling a beverage but less so under the remaining three wheels on your car as you try to regain control when that last nut fell off!

Like the traditional greased-pole climb at Ontario's Queens University by the fabled Queens Engineering Society, lubrication can sometimes make a simple endeavor challenging for some, frustrating for others and, with the proper mental lubrication, even fun. But... only if you can dig deep for a little harmless irreverence!

Life is full of such contradictions and exceptions, so many that it is understandable how one could literally freeze in place... become a rigid, inanimate human fireplug... when confronted with critical, life changing decisions. Amazingly and a testimony to human resiliency, most people have found ways of coping with difficult decisions short of endless mental treadmilling. Some people treat life as a personal game, a mountain to be climbed... a river to cross. Others have learned to get others into that game, recruiting help and turning strangers into friends to fill in the gaps in their own abilities. These are the best businesspeople; they are able to put together a working team of diverse individuals with a common goal.

But the most difficult decisions, those of life and death and finality, can frustrate even the best "game" player or "team" maker. What can one do when all the pictures so carefully hung on a familiar wall begin dropping to the floor... when once dependable doors hurl from their hinges and the smell of smoke is in the air?

Somewhere within each of us is a secret strength that bears us up at these times. I see it as a combination of hope, desire and, yes, denial. Hope provides a vision of a brighter future that sustains us, but without the spark of desire there is no movement towards the light. But that's not enough, at least for me. Denial can be defined as one's ability to ignore what appear to others to be "obvious" truths and has, regrettably, become a "pop-psych" catchall for avoiding responsibility. But I view denial is a more valuable tool for our collective sanity than that! It is a mental anesthetic that, in the proper dosage, can act as a life-lubricant and life-preserver, allowing a person to endure even unimaginable horrors. Have you ever faced a daunting task with an odd optimism or seemingly inappropriate calm? That is a healthy use and form of a survival mechanism and helpmate to be understood and used judiciously... just like that trusty oilcan.

In the mechanical world... with few exceptions... things that squeak are things that are wearing out! The smooth movement of one object against another, of a mind against itself, requires a little help sometimes. The help of small escapes and little dalliances can keep our souls quiet and strong... a counterbalancing hug against the seriousness we each must face each day.




Dear NH,

I've repaired "nail pops" in my bathroom numerous times. I wait until the repair is dry, sand, and paint (latex). It usually looks great.... until a month later when the repair cracks. The bathroom is used for showering, so it gets mighty humid there. Do I need to use special filler? I've tried various "spackling compounds," even outdoor ones in hopes that they would be more moisture proof. Or should I seal the repair somehow?



You appear to have done the cosmetic repair correctly. What you haven't done is solve the underlying problem... the wall is moving! First, a nail pop primer... nail pops are visible dimples in the wall over the wallboard nails or screws. This is caused by movement in the wall due to a space between the wallboard and the wood wall studs. This can happen for two reasons... shrinkage in the wood or improper nailing/screwing. This is a common and annoying problem during the first few years in new construction, so much so that it has become common for contractors to use construction adhesive on the studs to keep stud and wallboard blissfully together!

Though some nail pops proudly display themselves without warning, many lie in wait until someone leans on the wall... oops... or during routine repairs such as picture hanging or even painting. The wall suddenly moves, causing the nails to push on the wallboard compound covering them. The pops appear like mushrooms on a damp lawn... as if you didn't have enough work to do!

Simply repairing the visible wall damage... the "pop" or dimple caused by the movement of the wall... is not enough. The pop will reappear... guaranteed... unless you take steps to tighten up the wallboard. Some folks think they can take the easy path and simply bang in the nail or tighten the drywall screw. Sorry... usually not enough. The best repair is to install a drywall screw three inches above and below the pop while pressing the wallboard against the stud. This action both tightens the wall and gives support to the weakened drywall around the pop.

Be prepared (not scared, just prepared) for a few more nail pops to appear along the same stud (or even in adjacent studs) as you do this repair. By disturbing the wall, you are arousing the nail-pop demon! Boogah! Boogah! Get this little devil under control by doing the same aforementioned procedure on all the subsequent pops and I can give you a 99% guarantee that this is one home repair you will not have to repeat!


Dear NH,

We just moved into a new house in December. The lower level has an upflushing toilet system described on your website as a "sewage ejection system". Jeez, we only moved in two months ago and it appears we have a problem! From what I can tell, the containment tank has a hole in it and runoff is now seeping into the tank. I can hear and see the leak by peeking in from the top of the tank. This makes the sewage pump run more often and is probably overloading our septic system. I have consulted with a plumber and he is now planning on buying a new car with the profit he will make on this job.

I figure I might be able to get the replacement tank and do the work myself. Or maybe the old tank can be patched in some manner. This is not a job I am looking forward to.



By runoff, do you mean that you think that ground water is leaking into your sump tank? That is definitely a serious problem, since you could well flood your septic system. But it is also the least likely source of your problems, considering that the typical sewage ejection system utilizes a sturdy closed tank. It would take an earthquake or some serious abuse to put a hole in one! Eating firecrackers or 4-alarm chili, for example.

Hold off on shopping for your plumber's new Lexus... it is possible that your problem is less earth shattering than your first instinct. What may be happening is that the backflow or "check" valve in your system is not working properly. This valve keeps the waste water from running back into the sump from the vertical pipes leading up to your home's drain system. Depending on the amount of pipe used in your installation, a significant amount of water could be slowly leaking back into the tank... even enough to keep the sewage pump continuously cycling! This would not damage your septic system (no extra water is being moved) but it would add to the wear and tear on your pump!

The check valve is mounted on top of the tank or near the tank in the drainpipe. There is a diagram of a typical system in our article on upflushing toilets at:

I really hope that you don't have to replace the entire system. However, this is not an extremely difficult do-it-yourself job... especially since you have most of the plumbing and electrical work pre-done, as well as the sump itself! Your local plumbing supplier will be able to set you up with the correct adapters to tie your new system into your old plumbing. As far as the ejector system, you can purchase a replacement at a local plumbing supply store, or order one online from Plumbing



Dear NH,

We have a laminate floor in our kitchen and dining room. Then, our dishwasher hose developed a leak, but we didn't know it. We don't even know how long it had been broken... months, we guess!

The laminate flooring started to warp and that is how we found out something was wrong. We want to put down a new floor but the subfloor has been wet for quite some time and now, after being exposed, smells really bad. We are trying to dry it out, but how do we get rid of the smell



The odor is being caused by mildew that has grown under the flooring due to the excessive moisture. Drying out the floor is the first step and it should eliminate much but possibly not the entire odor. This drying process could take a week or two, so be patient (I know it's tough to live with the mess but hang in there!). Using fans and keeping the heat up can speed things along. If the subfloor is warped even slightly you must replace it. If the subfloor is still flat, there are a few steps you can take to lessen or even eliminate the odor.

There may be areas that have become wet that will not dry very quickly, such as underneath the cabinets surrounding the dishwasher. If the dampness appears to extend under them, you can try to remove the kick-boards under the cabinets to allow air to circulate. Be careful doing this, since the cabinets can be damaged. If your kitchen has vinyl cove moldings under the cabinets, they will cover any new wood that may be needed to replace the kickboards. I can't offer any specific guidance on this procedure since it depends on the construction of your cabinets. Also, if the flooring is partially in the way removing the kickboards may be more difficult or impossible. Eventually, all the flooring will dry up, even under the cabinets. It will just take a lot longer to do so!

Once the floor is thoroughly dry, wash it with a mildew-killing solution of one cup of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water. Let it soak into the surface of the floor for a while (ten to fifteen minutes should do it) before rinsing it off. Again allow the floor to dry thoroughly. This should eliminate much of the odor. Try not to get the bleach mixture on any finished surfaces such as cabinets... unless you need to clean them also. Most modern finishes will not be permanently damaged by the bleach mixture but, if you are unsure, wipe them off immediately or just keep them dry in the first place!

If your laminate flooring is "loose-laid" or "engineered flooring" which does not use an adhesive, you can take the additional step of sealing the subfloor with any quality clear wood sealing product, such as Thompson's Water Seal. This will further seal in the residual odors from the mildew. Just check with the manufacturer of your flooring to be sure that this will not cause any compatibility problems with the flooring. It probably won't but it's always good to check!

If your laminate floor is fully glued down, the adhesive should offer additional odor protection so sealing the floor is probably unnecessary or, again depending on the manufacturer's recommendations, even undesirable!



6) "PASS THE HAMMER, WOULD YA?"... NH's readers speak out!

Dear NH,

Regarding your recent contribution to "The Dollar Stretcher" concerning dryer hose installation, I feel that if you are a "natural" handyman you would advise people to use the "natural" solution... a clothesline! They are low tech, cheap and rarely malfunctioning! All the components can be safely recycled or composted without contributing to the vast waste stream of society. I use a recycled ice cream bucket is used to hold the clothespins.

I consider the washer, clothes dryer, the dishwasher, the garbage disposal the most useless, costly, energy grabbing products in the home today, outside of poor energy construction. Doing the laundry by hand is almost a spiritual experience for me!

One can live VERY comfortably on VERY little money if one pays attention with both ears and eyes. We live off of the wastes of society, which is a total embarrassment to me. It's amazing what my walks glean. Purchases are only food and repair parts.

Of course then you would be out of business but you and I both know that will NEVER happen!



There is no argument that our consumer-based culture is in many ways wasteful, but one also has to look at the "big picture" before passing judgment on anyone or their lifestyle. True... each of us can do our part in conservation of energy and resources but standing apart from society is not necessarily something to be strived for. My family uses our trusty clothesline as much as possible but would never consider throwing away the clothes dryer... otherwise we would be wearing damp (or frozen) clothes all winter!

The indisputable fact is that the diversity of needs and desires (as well as the diversity in ambition and talent) have produced the marvels of medicine, science and technology that allow us to be both alive and communicating today! You are using a computer to read this letter... yet you can do so without even touching a circuit board or soldering iron. While you are pounding on the keyboard, you keep warm by burning wood in a stove but have never learned to form cast iron. The electricity flows to light your monitor courtesy of the hard, sometimes dangerous work of many people you don't even know. It is a marvel that each member of our society has more choices than they would if they were truly alone... even the choice to abandon the group!!

Everyone chooses a path in this life and few of us are fully satisfied with our choices but none of us live in a vacuum. The successes of others are also our successes, as are their failures. People such as yourself who have chosen to forsake many of the perks of society for a minimalist lifestyle... and I have known many... have found a way of living that suits their temperament and philosophy. This is fine... yet even they admit that without the supportive structure of civilization-at-large, they would be unable to survive.

I am a true believer in self-reliance... my repair skills are a direct result of my "take no prisoners" attitude towards doing-it-myself! I have taken upon myself to teach to help other people to be similarly self-reliant. At the same time, though, I marvel at and enjoy much of the benefits of our culture and society. There is a balance, however. Each of us must find the proportion that works for us... you take pleasure in your way, and I in mine!